The men who live in the woods behind my house had been getting out of hand for some time. They were all in their mid-fifties, golfers formerly, and meat eaters -- jolly men in general -- but since... [+]
Nico shoved his back into the cage, the metal was cold against his thin t-shirt. His cheeks were wet from tears and his throat was sore and tired. As he pulled his legs into his chest and wrapped himself in his mother’s sweater, he breathed in the warm scent of campfire and pine. If he concentrated he could smell his mom’s coconut shampoo. Focusing on the memory, he sunk into the scene.
He sits in his mother’s lap close to the woodstove. Rain pounds against his abuelo’s roof and sheets of rain plummet onto the dry ground. His mom combs through her wet hair, slowly drying. Nico’s abuela rushes into the kitchen, quickly tying an apron around her thin frame. Her curly hair bounces against her shoulders as she hurries towards the shrieking tea kettle.
Nico opened his eyes. A young girl no older than five was screaming through uncontrolled tears. She kicked her purple velcro shoes into the air with all of her strength. Her back pounded into the thin blue mat where she lay. The air was knocked out of her lungs, she was momentarily silenced, and then the cries continued, louder than before.
Nico sat inside a space enclosed by four tall metal chain link walls. A dozen other kids sat inside, too paralyzed by their own fear to interact. The air smelled of concrete, metal and chemicals. Guards in dark grey uniforms stood with their backs to the cage, their eyes darting around, observing every interaction. Nico could not remember how he got into this building, into the metal cage where he lay.
In front of the guards was a long hallway. It quickly became narrow and darkened. As he craned his neck in attempt to peer down the corridor he became aware of his aching, bruised ribs. One of the men in uniform turned his head to face Nico. His face was wrinkled and worn into a permanent frown. His eyes were the murky grey of a polluted creek, they pulled Nico back to that long hallway. He remembered the guard. He had grabbed Nico around his torso. His hands gripped and crushed his ribs as he tore him away from his mother. She screamed until her voice was raspy and hoarse. The guard turned his back, and the memory faded. Nico tried to remember where his mom had gone, or who had taken her, but the memory slipped from his mind like the final rays of light at day’s end.
Hours passed and Nico had not eaten since he had been with his mother the night before. The guards had passed out ham sandwiches and cups of juice but Nico could not swallow a bite. His stomach felt as if it had been twisted into a thousand knots, and anxiety constricted his throat. The overhead panels of light buzzed and provided only dim, half light. The warehouse walls stretched to the tall ceiling, without a single window. He could not tell how much time had passed or what time of day it was. As he sat curled in a tight ball, he drifted into a fitful, uneasy sleep, somewhere between his nightmarish reality and an equally terrifying dream world.
A woman in uniform swung opened the chain link door and walked towards Nico. She crouched down, her eyes level with his own. He shrunk back in fear. “Your name is Nico?” She spoke in spanish, this was the first adult Nico had heard speaking in a language he could understand. He paused, unsure whether to give her this information. She was wearing the same uniform as the man who took him away from his mother. Had she grabbed other kids out of their parent’s arms and torn families apart? “You are at the McAllen, Detention Center in Texas.” Detention was what happened to kids at his old school when they had done something wrong. He had not done anything wrong. He was sure that his mom hadn't either. “My name is Beth.” She picked up his lunch wrapped in foil, “You didn't eat your sandwich. How could you resist the stale bread?” Nico let a slight smile slip, but as his eyes darted back to her uniform, he was filled with intense anger.
“Where is my mom? He took me away from her.” Nico pointed to the man standing in front of the cage. Beth gently touched his arm. She looked at the little boy, fear radiating out of his tiny frame. His huge, dark eyes were filled with exhaustion and worry. She thought of her own son, who was starting his first day of school today. There was something strikingly similar about the two boys.
“She is safe. I promise we are doing everything that we can right now.”
Nico was sure this was a lie. “There must be a way,” he said quietly. These words pained Beth, because she knew that they were true.
Nico drifted in and out of sleep as hours wore away, or minutes, he could not tell which. Beth had tried to get him to eat but he refused. He had no appetite, and he didn't want to take anything from these people.
The little girl with purple velcro shoes had moved onto his mat while he was sleeping. He awoke, her head resting against his side. He tried to talk to her, but they could not understand each other. He pointed to himself and said,“Nico.”
“Nico,” she repeated, and pointed to herself, “Alma.”
Alma and Nico sat together in silence, he ran his fingers through her wispy brown hair and her cries slowed.
Beth returned with a small container of soup for each of the kids. Nico pried off the plastic top and hot steam smelling of potatoes and leeks rose up. His hunger overtook his mind and as he ate, warmth flooded his body. “Nico I have something for you.” Beth’s tone was quiet and serious. But you can’t let anyone see it or find out how you got it.” She quickly handed him a letter folded into a thick small square. “The other guard will leave in a few minutes for a break. You must put it in your pocket and wait until he is gone before you read it. And don’t let Alma see it either.” Nico nodded in confirmation and Beth got up and walked briskly out of the enclosure.
Nico’s eyes stayed glued on the man in uniform. As he said something to Beth and began walking down the wide hallway, Nico watched him until his the speck that was his figure faded into the darkness. Alma was fast asleep a few feet away from him. He draped his mom’s sweater over himself and laid on his side. Carefully he pulled the paper out of his pocket. His hands shook with anxiety and anticipation.
I hope that this letter has made it to you. A kind guard agreed to transport it. She has assured me that you are safe. It is important that you stay determined, Nico, and that you take care of yourself. You must trust your instincts, some people in this world are not looking to help you, but some are good, I promise you. These good people are the ones that will reunite us. I love you so much, more than you can understand. Know that I am okay and though I do not know when, I promise that we'll be together. I think of you every second,